Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Kirk Watson talks housing affordability, Austin growth, return as mayor at first University Democrats meeting

Lorianne Willett
Mayor Kirk Watson spoke at the the UT University Democrat’s meeting in Burdine Hall on August 23, 2023.

Mayor Kirk Watson reflected on a changing Austin and dealing with its current affordability and climate crisis at a University Democrats’ Q&A on Aug. 23. 

Watson was a guest speaker at the organization’s meeting attended by roughly 100 students. United States Congressman Lloyd Doggett and State Rep. James Talarico will be at future meetings. With a rising homelessness epidemic and rapid urban growth, Austin has changed drastically since Watson’s first mayoral term in 1997. This is his second tenure as mayor. 

“(My wife and I) came to Austin for one year, and people said, ‘You will never want to leave,’” Watson said. “We made fun of them because we had never been in a place that captivated people like that … Within three months, we were wondering if we can make a living here. One of the reasons I ran was because I don’t want to be part of the generation that creates that sort of intergenerational inequity.”

Watson said he ran again to fight inequity. He has worked hard to create more affordable housing and assist with keeping money in Austinite’s pockets. During his first term as mayor, he tried to put a light rail project on the local ballot to help create housing opportunities, but the bill was struck down by the local voters at the time. 

“One of the big expenses for people is transportation,” Watson said. “If we can create a system that is cheaper and (citizens) don’t need a car, environmentally and affordably, we’re making a difference for this generation. That’s a big reason I decided it was important to run again.”

Watson reflected on the changes and challenges that have occurred in Austin over the 20-year gap between terms, speaking on measures he believes helped the city in the long run.

“The first time I was mayor, Austin was becoming a big city,” Watson said. “We created the first resource center for the homeless in Austin, knowing that we needed to address issues like that. We were becoming a big city; we are now a big city.”

Watson said the issues “have come to scale.” Austin has become internationally recognized, as shown by the South by Southwest Festival. According to SXSW Event stats, the 2023 conference drew attendees from over 100 countries. 

Climate is also an issue for Austin as the city entered stage 2 drought restrictions. Watson said he purchased water from the Lower Colorado River Authority in 1999 which was supposed to last 50 years. Yet, with recent extreme weather, there is a water emergency. 

“We have a climate action plan that we’re moving on,” Watson said. “We need to be moving more quickly on some of these things, and we have a water plan. “

University Democrats President Brian Pena said their connections with campaigning and working for officials helped them to get their three guest speakers this year.

“We’re proud with everything Mayor Watson’s done,” Pena said. “We think he’s a genuine advocate for students and Austin.”

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About the Contributor
Lorianne Willett, Photo Editor
Lorianne is a Journalism and Global Sustainability junior from San Antonio, Texas. Currently, she is the Photo Editor. In her free time, she enjoys reading and playing tennis.